Even Your Pocket Change is Telling You to Vote

As citizens of the United States finish polling and wait for the results of their midterm elections, here’s Tom Hockenhull of the British Museum talking about coins that were defaced in the name of voting rights for women. The coin was featured in Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects: “this coin stands for all those who fought for the right to vote.”

May that right always expand and never contract. (You can help make that wish a reality by supporting the Fair Fight PAC and other organizations that defend voting rights in the US.)

The featured image for this post is a copper-colored British coin stamped with the phrase ‘Votes for Women.’ It is housed at the British Museum and photographed by Mike Peel.


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Extreme Accounting Avoidance

After we updated and reviewed our household finances for August, my partner sent me this:

And yes, we track our household finances in a spreadsheet–the cobbler’s child very much has no shoes.

Though now that we’ve moved to Canada–a move that brought multiple new bank, investment, and credit accounts as well as a second currency–I’m going to have to make the switch to an actual accounting platform.


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Mid-Century Financial Artifacts

I was out of the blogging routine for a couple of weeks because of my grandfather’s final illness, death, memorial, burial, and estate. While helping clean up his house, my sister and I spent a lot of time with the little treasure boxes he kept in his closet, and that we loved exploring as kids. I brought home a few goodies that are firmly in my lane.

Front and back of a Montgomery Ward National Charg-all Card that expired March 1969, back when my mother worked there (more on early credit cards here):

Front and back of a Soviet coin from 1933:

Front and back of a Canadian one-dollar note from 1954 (the more familiar loonie coin has been in use since 1987):

An envelope covered in running financial calculations, a method that I still use despite all my technological knowhow (and yes, I remember that El Camino):

In other news, it is worth noting that New York’s Fearless Girl statue will be moving to a new location in front of the New York Stock Exchange–the very spot that the Charging Bull’s sculptor hoped that his art would occupy when he introduced it in 1989. More on the histories and fates of the two statues here.


 

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Know Your Constellations: Eurion

Street scene with light-skinned person at right holding up a Euro bill. To the left appear a series of yellow circles with the text EURion constellation
Tom Scott explains why you can’t photocopy many currencies

This is the first Tom Scott video I remember watching. This is useful in the office, too: if you’ve ever had to copy or scan a check and kept coming up with a black page instead, you’ve come up against the Eurion. My solution? Cover the abejitas (little bees)as we used to call them at one of my clients, with bits of Post-It Note, and copy away.


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Iron-On Credit Data

Until the 1950s, having credit with a bank or merchant where no one knew you personally was a rare thing, and nothing like the credit card we know today existed.

In 1950, the Diner’s Club issued the first fully general-purpose charge card, and in 1958, the Bank of America issued the first general-purpose credit card (whose balance, unlike that of a charge card, did not have to be paid in full at each statement).

But technologically, these cards still functioned in the same way as the various merchant-specific charge coins, tokens, tags, and cards that had proliferated from the late 19th century through the 1940s–the embossed account number on the card, pressed through carbon transfer paper, facilitated the copying of data, but that data was still transmitted and verified manually.

Enter IBM, the CIA, and a woman named Dorothea Tillia Parry. In 1960, Parry’s husband Forrest was working on an IBM project to attach magnetic data strips to the back of plastic ID cards for CIA officials, and he couldn’t find an adhesive that didn’t warp the magstripe and ruin its data.a broken magnetic strip of the kind used on credit cardsDorothea listened to his problem over their laundry, and she suggested that he use her iron to melt the strip into the plastic. It worked.

The magnetic strip on the back of a new debit card.
The magstripe (and the electronic transmission of transaction data) became the US standard for credit cards in 1969, and the international standard two years later, though carbon impressions at the point of sale persisted for a while longer still. Now embedded microchips are taking over the magstripe’s role, but thanks to Dorothea Parry, it’s hard to imagine returning to a world of analog credit transactions.

Continue reading “Iron-On Credit Data”

Denise Schmandt-Besserat and the Accounting Origins of Writing

If literacy is not a divine gift from Thoth, the baboon-faced god of knowledge, then just where did it come from?A rectangular clay table marked with cuneiform.Cuneiform tablet from the Kirkor Minassian collection of the Library of Congress. 2041-2040 BC.

You may already know that cuneiform, which was used from the fourth millennium BC through the second century AD in the Near East, is one of the world’s earliest forms of writing. Did you know that it evolved from one of the world’s oldest accounting systems–counting tokens used in trade?A collection of small clay discs, cones, and pyramids on a piece of red feltTokens from Jarmo, Iraq, 6500 BC. Courtesy Denise Schmandt–Besserat.

If you find the connection between the two hard to see, you’re not alone. It took more than fifty years between the first discovery of cuneiform tablets in the ruins of Uruk (which was also full of counting tokens) for someone to work out that the first impressions of accounts in clay had been made by pressing the counters themselves into the material. The characteristic cuneiform stylus came later.Three small clay discs and three small clay cones with a larger, imprinted clay ball Envelope from Susa, Iran, ca. 3300 BC. Courtesy Denise Schmandt–Besserat. The lenticular disks each stand for a flock, and the cones represent small measures of grain.

Denise Schmandt-Besserat is the French-American archaeologist, professor emerita of Art and Middle Eastern Studies at my alma mater, the University of Texas, who made the connection. I can’t think of a better person to feature here as I fly off to Mississippi to volunteer with the National Forest Service’s Passport in Time archaeology program for a couple of weeks.Denise Schmandt-Besserat, a light-skinned person in black clothing with their head covered, stands in front of a wall holding a wooden perch on which a hooded raptor sits.Denise Schmandt-Besserat with a falcon in Ryadh, Saudi Arabia, 2011.


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